Approximately a dozen West Side residents gathered at the Columbus Park Fieldhouse at 500 S. Central Ave., on Dec. 2 to voice opposition to Chicago Public School’s plan to change the enrollment policy for admission to its Selective Enrollment and Magnet Schools.
Among the changes that CPS is proposing:
Magnet Schools would allow siblings of students currently attending the school they are applying for to get placed before all other applicants. There would also be no cap on the number of siblings admitted. The current policy promises only 45 percent of all available seats to siblings.
Magnet Schools would then offer 50 percent of the seats that remain (after siblings are accepted) to students residing within 1.5 miles of the school. Currently they only offer 30 percent of available seats.
Finally, after students are placed based on the sibling and proximity rule, the remaining students are pulled from a lottery based on four socio-economic levels. An equal number of students would be pulled from each of the four classifications.
This admission policy is complicated since the four groups are identified using factors based on the Census Tract information from specific communities, including median family income, single-parent households and adult education attainment.
Selective enrollment schools would admit 50 percent of applicants based on test scores and grades compared to other students across the city. They would not consider minority status as a factor as the policy currently requests.
The other 50 percent of applicants will be accepted according to their scores as compared to other students in their socio-economic group. This element of the plan would use the same classifications that magnet schools would use to identify the four groups.
The most controversial aspect of the CPS plan involves their intention to discontinue the use of the Desegregation Consent Decree in its enrollment process.
The decree was put in place in 1980 to ensure diversity in the process of recruiting students. However, the decree was vacated in September 2009, when CPS had successfully demonstrated its adherence to it for 29 years. Now, CPS wants to eliminate race altogether as a factor when considering prospective students for its charter schools.
According to East Garfield Park Attorney Vernon Ford, discontinuing the consideration of race in charter school admissions was due, in part, by CPS’ incorrect interpretation of a recent Supreme Court decision.
“CPS wrongly assumed that the 2007 ruling prohibiting a school district in Louisville from using race as a factor in the admissions process,” said Ford. “But in reality, the court ruled that race could not be the ‘sole’ factor, but instead as one consideration.”
Ford added that CPS’ plan to use socio-economic status has been attempted in Charlotte, N.C. and Cambridge, Mass. and both school districts experienced “less diversity in their schools.”
“They are trying to obtain the same outcome of school diversity using means that have shown to be unsuccessful,” said Ford.
Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman told the Associated Press that the admissions plan is only guaranteed to be in place for one school year, and promises to adjust it next year if it fails to maintain racial or economic integration at the schools.
Huberman further asserted that he is committed to “maintaining — or even increasing — racial diversity in Chicago’s public schools,” and that despite the failures of other districts in other states using a similar model, the CPS proposal more specifically addresses race without instituting race-based guidelines.
Nevertheless, Phillip Jackson, organizer with the Black Star Project says that the plan is being, “rammed through without much support or input from parents and teachers.”
“CPS knew they were intending to eliminate the consent decree from its charter schools. It’s been in the works for at least two years. But instead of announcing it earlier in the year and giving parents time to adjust to it and the rest of this confusing plan, they announce it to the media editorial board on Nov. 10, held four hearings that few parents knew about in time to attend and said they will vote on it [on Dec. 16],” said Jackson.
“We want to encourage people in the community and local lawmakers to support our effort to delay admissions to Selective Enrollment and Magnet schools at least until Jan. 22,  and pass a plan with parental input by the Jan. 20,  Board Meeting.”
Jackson says that the plan that CPS proposes should not only work toward maintaining the diversity of the schools but also “benefit the quality of all the schools in Chicago.”
“With this confusing language in assessing socio-economic status and locking parents out of the formulation of the plan, I cannot see how this proposal will benefit anything but the Board of Education’s bottom line,” said Jackson.
Jackson and other opponents of the plan, including West Side community activist Dwayne Truss and business owner Alex Lyons also want to assemble a group of 1,000 parents, educators and residents to organize a gathering at the Board of Education, 100 W. Randolph St., between now and Dec. 16.
“They are basically eliminating the consent decree, promising that it would not negatively impact racial diversity in the schools, shoving it through during the busy holiday season and saying, ‘trust us, we know what we’re doing,’ but their lack of transparency is deeply alarming,” said Lyons, who owns the real estate firm Zephyr in West Garfield.